JUST a few weeks ago the Oxford Dictionary identified the word “post-truth” as its Word of the Year for 2016.
This choice was, presumably, a response to American’s President-elect Donald Trump’s incredible campaign. It is also an acknowledgement of the flexibility of those who campaigned for Brexit showed in their relationship with actuality, the set of circumstances most fair and rational people know as the truth.
The elevation of that word suggests that there is a certain novelty, a certain frisson, around the idea of post-factual behaviour, argument or campaigning in politics. That may well be the case in America or Britain, though that’s pretty improbable, but it certainly is not in Ireland.
Ever since Gerry Adams became president of Sinn Féin 33 years ago he has, on issue after issue, adopted a position that seems to chime perfectly with the Oxford Dictionary definition of post-factual which is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.
The issues are myriad, Mr Adams’ well-honed rebuttals have become standard, almost pantomime believe-what-you-wills in our public landscape.
The litany of denial is long and almost numbing but it is also incomplete.
Just yesterday the saga around the 1983 murder of prison officer Brian Stack intensified when his son Austin once again publically accused Gerry Adams of lying about his knowledge of the murder of his father. Mr Stack urged Mr Adams to provide the gardaí with any information he had on the murder.
Earlier Mr Stack said he and his brother Oliver were taken to meet a senior IRA member and demanded that Mr Adams must give the name of that person to An Garda Síochána. He insisted he did not want to hear any more untruths. As is par for the course Mr Adams said he “utterly rejected” the allegations made by Mr Stack. He also insisted he did not lie on the matter in the Dáil on Wednesday.
This is all-too-familiar if confusing territory. Both parties can’t be telling the truth and once again Mr Adams finds himself defending his credibility in the face of a brave and determined relative of someone murdered by the IRA.
But does any of this matter in a post-factual world? The latest poll suggests Fianna Fáil, despite its shameless opportunism on water charges, is once again the most popular party.
That Irish Times poll recorded a two-point drop to 17% for Sinn Féin. This suggests that almost one-in-six of the electorate is unconcerned about Mr Adams’ stretched credibility.
Of course, he is not the only politician who seems to have something like an open-marriage relationship with probity. This latest episode also underlines the reality that any other political leader so accused could not survive.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved